George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels are bursting at the seams with allusions, hints and red herrings. This has led to endless speculation and theorizing among fans, and provides a great way to pass the long wait between novels.
Varys, King’s Landing’s most decorated spymaster, has been the subject of several fan theories. Not long ago, we explored the notion of whether he might be the last surviving member of House Tarbeck. Today, we’ll explore another theory about him: Varys is secretly a merman.
Okay, yes, that sounds nuts, but hear us out. There’s some actual evidence to support the theory.
First off, “merman” isn’t technically the right word. Throughout the books, Martin makes references to “merlings,” sea creatures that correspond vaguely to mermaids and mermen imagined by sailors in the Middle Ages. Littlefinger even has a ship called The Merlin King.
Notably, that’s not the only reference to sea monsters in the books. During her travels in the Riverlands in A Feast for Crows, Brienne hears about “squishers,” man-eating fish creatures that walk on two legs. In The World of Ice & Fire, a history book about Westeros, Maester Theron posits the existence of a race of creatures called the Deep Ones, “half men sired by creatures of the salt seas upon human women.” The Deep Ones, Theron theorizes, are responsible for building both the Seastone Chair on the Iron Islands and the base of the Hightower in Oldtown, which are made out of the same oily black stone. (They may have also built the city of Asshai, which is similarly constructed.) The theory is that merlings, squishers, and Deep Ones are all one and the same, and that Varys is one of them.
So what evidence for that is there? First, let’s look at a scene from A Game of Thrones, the first book in the series. When Arya chases a cat beneath the Red Keep and gets lost, she observes a conversation between Varys and Illyrio Mopatis (Varys’ ally from across the Narrow Sea). This isn’t a point of emphasis on the show, but in the books it’s noted that Varys and Illyrio ascend from what Arya believes to be a well. They literally come up out of the water. She follows them for a while, eventually finding herself emptying into a river.
Then there’s this conversation between Varys and Tyrion in season 2, after Varys makes what Tyrion interprets as a veiled threat against Shae.
Tyrion: “Threaten me again and I’ll have you thrown into the sea.”
Varys: “You might be disappointed in the results. The storms come and go, the big fish eat the little fish, and I keep on paddling.”
Varys might just be using a vivid metaphor, or he may be hinting at his true, sea-dwelling nature.
Also consider that Varys’ backstory of being a eunuch would provide him with an excuse for not changing in public—we don’t even want to think about what kinds of genitals fish people might have. Telling people he’s a eunuch would also explain why he seems to have no sexual interest in anyone, man or woman. Even fellow eunuch Grey Worm is interested in Missandei, but Varys remains apart. That’s because, so the theory goes, his sexual preferences don’t include any member of the human species, but something else entirely…
To what end might Varys be masquerading around on dry land, pretending to be a man? One of the crazier ideas is that he wants to melt the Wall and flood the world. In theory, only the higher elevations would remain above sea level, and the theoretical merling kingdom would expand to become the dominant power. Varys could accomplish this using Dany’s dragons, and he has very recently pledged himself to her cause. Also, he could leave Littlefinger on top of mountain, effectively stranding him on an island. Varys would like that.
Some other bits of support, such as they are, for the Varys-is-a-merling theory:
- If Varys is a merling, his well-walking friend Illyrio Mopatis likely is, as well. This is a big conspiracy we’re talking about. Both of them are described are large (particularly Motapis), but light on their feet. That suggests a preternatural amount of strength.
- Varys is said to have a “slimy smile.” That could mean he doesn’t open his mouth when he smiles, obviously because he has rows of sharp little teeth.
- Let’s circle back to Littlefinger for a moment. He owns that boat called The Merling King, and at one point claims to have complete control over Varys. Might that be because he knows Varys’ secret and is blackmailing him?
A simple counter to all of this is to ask why George R.R. Martin would include an undercover merling in his story when it already has dragons and ice monsters. Martin has generally tried to ground his fantasy in realism, and this may be one prominent fantasy creature too many. But that shouldn’t get in the way of a good theory. Ultimately, these shreds of evidence don’t add up to proof that Varys is secretly a merling, but then again, they don’t not add up to proof that Varys is secretly a merling…what do you guys think?
Thanks to Redditor AllegraGeller for collecting a lot of evidence related to this theory in one convenient thread.